Five years ago, God decided it was time to deal with chronic, stifling anxiety in my life. On a Sunday morning in our church bathroom, I blacked out and spent the rest of the day and half the night in the emergency room. “Just a virus,” said the doctors when basic tests revealed nothing alarming. In the following days, however, I knew that something bigger was wrong as my fatigue, low-grade fever and body aches persisted. My sense of well-being plummeted as I was gripped with fear for my health and the implications of that for my family.
Quickly a sense of panic overcame my usually cheerful disposition. I could no longer sleep. By the end of the week, my anxiety reached a crescendo that sent me back to the emergency room with an anxiety attack. As I waited two more weeks for an appointment with a specialist, I could only sleep when I took a prescription tranquilizer. I added to my list of fears a new first place contender: fear of being unable to sleep without medication.
I was no stranger to obsessive, crippling fears. Since childhood I’d had periodic battles with them. As a mother I discovered a new Pandora’s box of worries. Seemingly irrational fears came much closer when my own sister’s two children died in a car accident in 2004. Long trips by car or plane became hurdles of courage for me. My sons’ common childhood viruses seemed ominous, even life-threatening. The strains and demands of a growing family stretched my fragile emotional health to a near-breaking point.
After one month of persistent sleep deprivation, anxiety, aches and fatigue, my new doctor diagnosed mono. Despite the relief of knowing that I had a curable illness, I had reached such a low point that I told one of my friends I felt like a derailed train. I had no idea how to get back on the track.
At this time I also started taking medication to treat anxiety and depression. My original level of anxiety was so intense that it took several weeks for it to take effect. Meanwhile, friends brought meals and picked up my sons for play times. They hoped I could “rest,” but my mind whirled so much that sleep was like a phantom leering at me from the shadows. It was all I could do to put together a simple meal or do the laundry. As I walked through this dark time, I was surprised to find that these simple tasks, along with short daily walks, became small steps toward my healing.
I felt others’ prayers most vividly when I lay down at night to sleep. The words “Jesus loves me” would come to mind, and I would rest in that truth. The tight knot of anxiety began to slowly unravel. I read the Psalms, feeling as David often did that God was silent and distant. I found special comfort in the words of Psalm 40. It described the believer in a slimy pit, unable to help himself at all. There is no ladder lowered for the believer to hoist himself up. But the hand of God actually reaches out and places him on solid ground. I believed this was what God would do for me.
About three months later, the grip of anxiety had lost its power. God began to show me how to put life back together. I believe that mono was the tool God used to show me that my anxiety needed his healing. I can still be subject to irrational anxiety, especially at night. The monster-grip of fear, however, is weakened. His healing effects have included deeper, reliable sleep; more energy; and even less agonizing over everyday choices and mistakes. Our God is the God of healing and hope. He takes broken people and makes them whole again.